Saturday, August 7, 1999

Guadalcanal rebels
raid village, kidnap
man with Hawaiian claim

The Isatabu Freedom Fighters
are holding him for ransom

By Burl Burlingame


Although details are clouded by a government media blackout, a Solomon Islands resident who claims Hawaiian citizenship was kidnapped Sunday by a rebel group on Guadalcanal.

Peter Taiyo, a native of Stewart Atoll, or Sikaiana, was seized by the Isatabu Freedom Fighters in a rebel raid on a Sikaianese emigre village at Red Beach, about 15 miles from Honiara, capital city of the Solomons, said Mark Seidenberg of the American Sovereignty Task Force. About 100 other Sikaianese were routed from their homes and the village burned. They have sought refuge in Honiara, and it is not known if Taiyo is still alive.

The last report on Taiyo indicated that he was being tortured and held for ransom of $1,000 Solomons dollars ($211.07 in American dollars).


'An ethnic-cleansing action'

Stewart Atoll was legally annexed by the kingdom of Hawaii in 1855, and ever since then the Sikaianese have considered themselves part of Hawaii and, by extension, the United States. Tiny Sikaiana is one of only two groups of Polynesian islands in the overwhelmingly Melanesian Solomons.

A Government Accounting Office survey of American possessions notes that the property is currently disputed between the Solomons and the United States, placing Sikaianese citizenship status in limbo. Even so, the Sikaianese -- including Taiyo -- have cast votes in Hawaiian sovereignty elections and consider themselves Hawaiian citizens.

"This is, bottom line, an ethnic-cleansing action in the South Pacific," said Seidenberg of the task force, which champions Sikaianese causes in American courts. He said a reason that trouble on Guadalcanal doesn't get much media coverage is edicts by the Solomons government that make it a prison offense to speak to media.

The current State Department travel advisory, dated June 11, notes that visitors should "exercise caution" outside Honiara because of "acts of lawlessness" in the countryside. News reports from the area, however, say several citizens have been killed and as many as 20,000 made homeless by the Isatabu Freedom Fighters, formerly known as the Guadalcanal Liberation Army.

The rebels have targeted emigrants from the province of Malaita, which includes Sikaiana. Malaitans make up the majority of the work force for foreign-operated mines on Guadalcanal. The rebels are inspired by the nearby Bougainville Revolutionary Army, which has been engaged in a decade-long civil war that has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives.

"We want all Malaitans in Guadalcanal repatriated back to their land. We want them gone," IFF Secretary George Gray told reporter Peter Byrne last month. "We want the government to lift the state of emergency. ... We are prepared to lay down our arms if the government adheres to our demands."

If that doesn't happen, Gray said, "From here we can mount an attack on Honiara and kill all the Malaitans, wipe them out, in just three hours. It will take us just three hours to do that."

Solomons declare state of emergency

Heading a mediation team for the British Commonwealth -- of which the Solomons are a member -- is former Fijian military dictator Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka brokered the "Honiara Accord" in early July which led to a temporary cease-fire. Rabuka headed back to Guadalcanal yesterday.

In June, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu declared a "state of emergency" that gives police special powers, including arrests without warrants, few search-and-seizure restrictions and the ability to arrest anyone for six months without trials for saying, writing or displaying anything that might cause "fear, annoyance or danger" or "causing disharmony."

More that 40 already have been arrested under these measures, and local newspaper editors face a two-year prison sentence if they breach regulations. Live television coverage has ceased at the government-owned Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp.

Calls for information to various state offices in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Washington and to the consular office at the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea -- the closest American office to the Solomons -- were met instead with various questions about the situation on Guadalcanal. When the Overseas Citizens Duty Office in Washington was contacted about the fate of Taiyo, the Star-Bulletin was asked to make a report "as American citizens" about his kidnapping.

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